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The Other Side of Misery

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"Merle!"

If you had asked, Daryl wouldn't have been able to identify the voice of the person who had shouted so boldly, despite the fact that it was his own. Never in his life had he spoken to Merle in such a tone, one of admonishment and threat. Growing up, if Daryl ever disagreed with Merle's way of doing things, which was quite often, he would either just turn a blind eye or cajole Merle into giving up on whatever bone he happened to be chewing on. "C'mon, Merle, thought we were getting drunk. Leave the stupid beaners alone and let's get some beer." That's not to say that he wouldn't fight back. He gave as good as he got when Merle pushed him, as older brothers do. But when Merle was maliciously pushing others, well, Daryl tended to mind his own business. He learned it was best, and easiest, to just play along. Otherwise, he would become the new focus of Merle's rage.

But when he heard the raised voices of Merle, Maggie, and Glenn in an obvious argument, Daryl rushed over and arrived, along with a dozen others roused by the noise, just in time to see Merle swing his stump of an arm at Glenn, catching him in the side of the head. The righteous fury that rocketed through him compelled him to roar.

"Merle!"

That one word echoed through his head, rebounding with the implications of its declaration. And suddenly Daryl felt sick to his stomach. Sick at Merle's actions. Sick at knowing that he had fueled whatever was coming next. Sick in recalling the countless times in the past when he stood by and did nothing.

This would not end well. This fence sitting. From the day they were reunited Daryl knew something was going to have to give. Being one of Rick's group. And being Merle's brother. He had avoided choosing a side and he honestly didn't feel he was choosing one now, but he knew that Merle wouldn't agree.

"Merle!"

Merle also hadn't at first recognized the voice that was being shouted at him. He turned, ignoring Maggie as she tried to pry Glenn from his iron grip, and stared at his little brother in abject confusion. As the revelation of his brother's treachery washed over him, his mouth curled up into a nasty smirk.

"What's that, little brother?" he asked, offering Daryl the opportunity to take back his hasty pledge of allegiance to the United States of Rick.

Daryl knew giving in would only make things worse. He raised his chin in defiance.

"You heard," he replied, with as much conviction as a man could muster in the face of eminent threat. "Let him go."

Merle thought for a second before turning a calculating smile on him.

"Aww, c'mon now Daryl," drawled Merle. "We was just working out a little disagreement, weren't we Chinaman?"

Glenn flinched, expecting to be hit again when Merle brought his stump up, but Merle actually ran it over Glenn's head in what could only be described as a caress.

"Can see why you like this one," remarked Merle. "Figured it from the first. Him being exotic and all."

Daryl froze in terror. He would've preferred any amount of violence to what Merle was choosing to attack him with instead.

"What?" Merle said in response to the look of confusion on everyone's faces. "You didn't know?"

Merle laughed cynically. "Thought your group would all know by now, you being so close and all. Thought you'd have found out about my brother's homosexual proclivities."

Daryl couldn't breathe, his chest tight with anxiety as his most private and buried secret was exposed for all to see, and judge.

"No big deal, right?" Merle continued, pulling Glenn menacingly closer and growling. "You all love each other so much."

"No!" cried Maggie, pulling at Merle's arm. "Stop it!"

Merle snorted and loosened his grip and Maggie was finally able to pull Glenn away.

"See, little brother," said Merle in amusement. "No harm done."

Merle smiled in triumph before turning and walking away.

x

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x

Daryl hadn't spoken to anyone since the incident with Merle that morning, and no one spoke to him. His first thought was to pack his bags and go. He wasn't going to wait for them to open the damn gates. He'd find a way out.

He had just grabbed some extra bolts when a shadow fell across the doorway.

"Hey," greeted Glenn. "Watcha doin'?"

Daryl didn't respond, didn't even turn to acknowledge that Glenn was in the room. He folded up a blanket and shoved it in his bag.

"I'm okay," continued Glenn. "Hard head, I guess. So, Merle was right. No harm done."

Still no response from Daryl.

"Daryl, no one cares," Glenn said matter-of-factly.

Daryl's face turned red and he turned his back on Glenn as he shoved more supplies into his bag.

Glenn decided to take a different tack.

"And I can understand it…why you'd be attracted to me," joked Glenn. "I am pretty damn good-looking."

Daryl spun around to look at him more out of shock than anything. When he saw the playful smirk on Glenn's face, he couldn't help but snort. Glenn took it as a sign to continue.

"You are one lucky redneck to be able to wake up and see me every day," said Glenn, striking a pose. "Even walkers find me attractive. Seriously, they're always coming up to me."

Daryl watched him out of the corner of his eye in amusement.

"You ain't all that," commented Daryl after a minute, deciding to play along but still facing away and cheeks turning redder at his daring. "Too scrawny for my tastes."

Glenn was cheered by his response. "What? You don't like the emaciated survivor look? It's all the rage this year. It will be on every catwalk for fashion week. That and dirty clothes. Clean clothes without tears are so last year."

Daryl still hadn't turned to face him fully but Glenn could tell his demeanor had changed.

"If you still want to leave," said Glenn. "Just wait a day and we'll all go with you."

This time Daryl did turn fully to look for the sincerity in Glenn's face that he heard in his voice, and it was there. His chest tightened in response, a swell of emotion causing him to turn away again.

"Let me alone for a bit," mumbled Daryl.

"Yeah, okay," replied Glenn, laughter in his voice once again. "I get it."

Daryl looked at him bewilderment.

"Hate to say goodbye but love to watch me go," answered Glenn. "I get it. I'm going."

Glenn turned to go, walking out of the room with a little extra movement to his hips, much to Daryl's shock and amusement. He turned around at the door to give Daryl one last smile and Daryl couldn't help but smile back.

Once he left, Daryl stood looking down at his bag and pondered all that had happened. It had been an exhausting day, even more so than the most zombie-filled days they've run across. He'd lost his brother once and it was looking like he was going to be losing his brother again. But he now had a new family, a group of people that made him feel wanted and needed and cared for. That was a welcome surprise in his life and it was one that was well-worth holding onto.

As for that other aspect of his life that he had suppressed for so long. Well, he wasn't going to be organizing any parades through downtown Atlanta or painting rainbows on the motorcycle, but who knows? Maybe it just takes a zombie apocalypse for him to finally be able to be comfortable with who he really is. And, if he's a lucky enough redneck, to some day find someone to share his crossbow with.

He smiled at the thought while he unpacked the items from his bag.